It’s been a couple of tough years. 2014 and 2015 feel like a blurry fog. Pregnancy was extremely difficult – I’d say that’s when things got tough. And then when our daughter was born, I started experienced struggles in every area: with her health, depression, anxiety, anger, paranoia, marriage, spiritual struggles. Our incredible and relatively “charmed life” turned into one I didn’t feel like living most days. It was as if there were mountains in front of me that wouldn’t move.
But over the last couple of months, God has restored my soul. We have learned so much these last two years… And I have to share the lessons I’m learning and the incredible works of God’s faithfulness.
Lesson #1: Life is just hard.
There are two reasons. One, there is an enemy in this life – Satan. The enemy notices those on the battle lines. I think of the account of Job in the Bible, and the devil took notice of Job as a righteous man who feared God. And I think, what about me? Does my life make him take notice? I hope I’m making enough of a difference that the enemy is worried. The enemy is hard at work – tempting my weakness, testing my marriage, and trying my faith. Yet God is stronger.
But I think there’s another reason life has been hard in this season. It’s because God is refining me. Its hard to accept this reason for suffering. But it’s good. Here’s what I mean. Read James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I always felt baffled that trials could be pure joy. I thought it was just a command to be happy regardless. But I missed the word “because”. We can be joyful because we will be mature and complete! We can celebrate growth!
God has been telling me so many things these last two years:
Jo, I love you dearly, but I want you to grow up.
I want to work on you.
You want to help others through tough times? Then you have to experience them yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have.
I have a vision for you, but I have to refine you.
I’m so glad God won’t allow me to be satisfied with lesser things. I’ve come back to a scripture over and over this year:
Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. . . .
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.
1 Peter 4:2, 12-13 MSG
My sins are being refined. I had no idea how ugly my heart was until the last couple years. Theses challenges have brought out things deep in me that needed purifying.
- Lack of sleep brings out my incredible selfishness.
- A restricted diet brought attention to my gluttony and use of food as comfort.
- My baby’s struggles with sleep and eating showed me how judgmental I had been of so many moms.
- When I could no longer rely on myself and fix everything, I saw how prideful I am.
- In my marriage, my issues with impatience and control are being highlighted.
My suffering, though painful, is weaning me away from sin. And I celebrate because it means I will be free from those ugly things about me! I want to be free to fulfill God’s calling. But I have to be refined first.
Lesson #2 Embrace MY life.
Last year, I picked one word to be my theme for 2015. It was embrace. It was perfect for the year. I’m learning to embrace my life, my season, my calling. Often I want to live MY dreams for God. I feel like I could be doing so much more than being a stay at home mom caring for a high maintenance baby. At times I’ve felt forgotten, like I’m in a prison.
I was reminded of the story of Paul. He was an incredible preacher, mentor, church planter, and author. In Acts 16, he and his friend Silas were beaten and thrown into jail. They filled their miserable night with declaring the praise of God, and ended up leading the jailer to faith in God! The incredible thing is that they didn’t put their life on pause. Just because they weren’t out on the streets speaking to crowds didn’t mean God didn’t have work for them right there. They turned their prison into a pulpit. A place of praise.
Many days the last year, I felt in a prison. I was literally stuck at home. Trapped in each day of a blur of diapers, diet restrictions, depression, and duties as a mom. God said: Stop wishing for someone else’s calling. Be faithful now. Not when Elliot grows up. Not when your depression is gone. Not when you have a bigger house, more money, or when you are sleeping more at night. NOW. Turn your prison into praise.
Just because of the season I’m in, shouldn’t stop me from making a difference. I’ve developed some great friendships with our neighbors. I’ve been able to encourage other moms by texts and emails, and sometimes having them in my home. I’ve been able to care for Elliot and help her get healthier. I’ve learned to slow down and trade a busy life for margin. I’ve found joy and happiness in the small everyday things that were missed before. I’m learning to let go of my plan and my dream for our life and embracing what God has – turning my “prison” into a place of praise.
Remember, some of Paul’s best ministry and writing was done from a prison cell. I’m learning maybe the last two years weren’t a detour – they were part of the journey all along.
Lesson #3 Trust Him
The last thing God is teaching me is that he is worthy of my trust. I actually have a quote about this on the nursery wall that has been there since Elliot was born.
A couple years ago, I began sinking into a deep pit, falling so far nobody could even see me down there, let alone come after me to pull me out. I was lonely, angry, exhausted, and discouraged. I felt sick all the time. I couldn’t make it from the parking lot into church without taking a break. My brain was always foggy and I struggled to have conversations. I was always on edge – anxious, worried, and had a temper ready to go off any moment. I was convinced there was no part of my old self left. That I would never get out.
I’ve been so angry at God. Why would he allow me to struggle? Didn’t he care? Didn’t he see me? There is a passage from one of Jesus’ sermons where he reassures us that God hears us and will take care of us.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
I wasn’t convinced. I felt like God was giving me snakes and stones, when I kept crying out for bread. But he loved me too much to give me lesser things. Than to allow me to always get my way, than to leave me the way I was. All along, he had good gifts and was nourishing me with exactly what I needed.
Today I can say, I trust him. It’s been incredible the difference that has happened these last couple months. I still struggle with my health, but I’m healing emotionally and spiritually. He is restoring me. My energy is getting better. My focus and thinking are clearer. I have a sense of humor again! I’m able to talk with Ben about his job and his day. Our deep conversations are back. I can roll with the punches and deal with disappointment. I’m finding joy again.
He has lifted me out of the pit and brought me further on this journey of becoming complete and mature. I’m relying on him in brand new ways that were never possible before.
I had to come to the place where I quit asking “Why, God?” and start asking how. How he was going to show up. How he was going to use this. How I could trust him more.
God never left us alone these last two years. I’ve learned such a sweet trust in him. Life has been hard – but I can say that I really am grateful for all we had to go through because it changed me. It rid my heart of sin and helped me see new places God wants to change.
The promises of John 15 ring true. Each branch must be pruned so that it will be even more fruitful. Through the difficult times, God was able to make me more complete and mature. If we remain in him, he will remain in us. I’m so grateful for the lessons from these last couple of years. I know while life may be hard, I can trust him because he never left us.